So that’s what losing to the Nationals feels like. It had been awhile: since May 31st, actually. On that night Stephen Strasburg injured himself and Craig Stammen got the win. Last night, Stephen Strasburg got himself thrown out of the game and Craig Stammen got the win. If only the Nationals could replicate that blueprint into something approaching a trend, they’d be getting somewhere.
It may, however, be more difficult to replicate last night’s game than at first glance. The teams’ respective aces faced off, and neither survived the 2nd inning. Mike Minor was ineffective. Strasburg, as I just mentioned, got tossed. And then the game went 15 innings.
Regarding Minor: the Nationals jumped all over him, and it was perhaps uglier than even his ugly line suggests. Minor recorded only 5 outs on 67 pitches. When he threw strikes, the Nats hitters killed the ball; when he threw balls, they didn’t swing. Altogether the 25- year old gave up 4 runs, walked 4 guys, surrendered 4 hits, and struck out 2. It was probably just one of those nights – cold-ish, damp, and largely meaningless – but it’s nevertheless hard for a team to win when its starter gets shelled and lifted before the 2nd inning ends.
To their credit, the Braves battled back, and they did so largely on the back of the long ball. Jason Heyward, who is absolutely terrorizing pitchers right now – fun fact: Heyward has posted a .306/.378/.512 triple slash since June 1st; he’s also 4th in the majors in fWAR over the past 30 days – led the home half of the 1st off with a monster shot to right-center field; Brian McCann added a two-run shot of his own in the 6th; and Freddie Freeman, feeling left out, obliterated a Tyler Clippard pitch in the 8th to straightaway center. But even with those home runs, and even with the run Strasburg gifted to Atlanta in the 2nd – he walked Jordan Schafer, and then allowed the diminutive outfielder to circle the bases as he went all Ankiel on the mound, and then got tossed out of the uncertainty surrounding his sudden “wildness” – the Nationals maintained their lead.
They maintained their lead until the 26th out, anyway. At that point Heyward stepped to the plate with one on and two outs, and promptly hit the ball 415 feet to almost the exact same spot to which he homered in the 1st. Tie game. Free baseball. Yet hibernation mode, unfortunately, to follow.
Ultimately, the Nationals won a war of attrition. It was Adam LaRoche who delivered the big blow for them: he hit a home run off Kris Medlen in the top half of the 15th inning. As for Atlanta, the hitters apparently decided that 7 runs in 9 innings was quite enough, for they tallied a grand total of 2 singles and 2 walks over the next 6 innings. Nobody could get the big hit – perhaps it was because everyone was trying too hard to get the big hit – and in the end the good guys fell just a bit short. These things happen. They tend to happen especially when Marvin Hudson is calling balls and strikes. But while these things happen, losing to the Nationals always feels unnecessary.
The rubber match begins in a few short hours. Hopefully the starters got their sleep, because their teams need them to go deep into this one.